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Buddhadharma : Fall 2008
25 fall 2 00 8 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly The water I was familiar with was always distant, apart from me. He lived in water. He was always surrounded by it. Whose was the true water? however, the various waters which accord with the kinds of beings that see water do not depend on mind, do not depend on body, do not arise from karma, are not self-reliant, and are not reliant upon others. Water, being dependent on water, is liberated. Water is liberated because it is empty of any fixed charac- teristics. and although there are many ways of seeing water, for the individual being who’s seeing it, there is only that one way. nothing else exists at that moment. one day, in front of the assembly at mount gridhrakuta, instead of offering the usual sermon, Shakyamuni Buddha held up a flower. at that moment, there was just the flower. It filled the whole universe. When mahakashyapa saw that flower and smiled, there was just mahakashyapa smiling. There was no Buddha, no assembly, or even the flower. Every single object that we perceive, we have created our- selves. When we look at water, we create a particular image of water—different from someone else’s perception of water. It is this diversity that allows for unlimited artistic expres- sion. Thousands of depictions of sunsets have appeared in our poetry, literature, film, painting, and photography. amidst all of those portrayals, is there just one sun? michelangelo, when asked to speak about his approach to sculpting, said that he didn’t actually create images; he just released them from the stone. He would patiently chip away until the perfect figure that had always been within the stone was revealed. Zen practice works in a similar way. It removes all the extra so we can get to the ground of being, realize it, and then actualize it. From realization arises clear and appro- priate action, which is the essence of upaya, or skillful means. Skillful means change according to time, place, position, and degree. What was effective twenty years ago may not be effec- tive today. What is skillful in one place may not be appropriate in another. While I was a research scientist working in a chemical plant, I found out that my company was polluting a local stream. I was in a position of authority at the time, so I used it. I went to the plant engineer and talked to him about the problem. at first he was resistant, but when I offered to help him figure out alternative means to get rid of our waste, he agreed to cooperate. We worked together and the pollution stopped. Five years later, when a different ecological crisis involved the same plant, I was no longer working there. all I could do was stand outside the fence with a picket sign and protest, just like everyone else. In taking up causes, we need to be aware of the degree of action required. We have a tendency to fall into extremes. We either wallow in hopelessness, hiding from our problems like an ostrich with its head in the sand, or we run around in a frenzy like a chicken without a head. Either way, we do not accomplish anything worthwhile. Before Vincent van gogh turned seriously to painting, he held a ministry in the Borinage, a coal-mining district in the Belgian province of Hainaut. There he witnessed severe suf- fering and deprivation. Wanting to help the miners who were part of his congregation, van gogh gave away everything he owned: his clothes, food, furniture, even his house. In two weeks he had nothing left. He became just one more lonely soul shivering in a doorway. In any given situation, how do we know how much action is necessary and optimal? This is a difficult and subtle ques- tion. many of us engage a worthy cause with a vengeance. We know unequivocally what’s wrong and what’s right, and from that knowing we obtain plenty of fuel to propel our anger. To be able to funnel that energy into effective and skillful action requires that we take all aspects of a situation into consid- eration. It challenges us to be very clear about the nature of what is in front of us. Finally, as we prepare to take action we need to honestly ask ourselves, what are our talents? How much energy and time do we have to offer? How can we use our gifts for the benefit of others? our Buddhist ancestors were masters of skillful means. appearing and disappearing in harmony with the occasion, they created countless kinds of expedient means to alleviate suffering. appearing and disappearing are important dimen- sions of compassionate action. Sometimes we need to be very present; sometimes we need to be invisible. Both can be equally effective. Both depend on being awake. ➤ Every single object that we perceive, we have created ourselves. How we perceive water completely depends on who we are and the time and place in which we find ourselves. John DaiDo Loori roshi is the founder of the Mountains and river order and the abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery in Mt. Tremper, new York. This teaching is adapted from his forthcoming book, The Way of Mountains and Rivers. The photographs are from his exhibit, The Tao of Water, which is accompanied by the video Water Speaking Water.